Integrated + Balanced + Headphone?

Here is my current setup:

Source: Wadia 581i SE
Amplifier: Simaudio i5.3 integrated
Speakers: Merlin VSM-MX

The Simaudio is a fine unit, but it's single-ended only. I now have a balanced source, so I'd like to try an amplifier with balanced input. Since the Wadia also offers its own volume control, it would be a plus if the integrated could also be configured to act just as a power amp so I can try the digital volume control. I'd also like to have a headphone output if possible. I have a separate headphone amp that I am using right now, but I'd like to have everything in one convenient package.

My primary sound considerations are clarity, speed, and low noise. I tend to listen to fairly fast electronic music at low volume, and I like my notes to sound precise. I prefer solid-state over tubes.

So, what options are out there for a solid-state integrated amp that has balanced inputs and a headphone jack, and can be used as a power amp on its own? The only one I've seen that seems to have everything I want is the MBL 7008, but I'd be interested to hear if there are others out there. I'd like to cap my budget at US$7500, but if there are pricier alternatives out there, I'd like to know about them as well. Thanks.
Welcome Mr. Crash,

Given your criteria, the MBL seems to fill the bill. Still, it raises a couple of questions in my mind. One, are you likely to prefer the digital volume control of the CDP to the MBL's? I think that's very doubtful. The MBL will probably sound better than all but the very best onboard digital volume control.

Next, will the MBL's headphone amp meet or outperform your separate headphones amp? Not knowing which HP amp you have I can still say it's doubtful. The can-amp will likely better that the little add-on circuit of the MBL.

Search over at or join and ask the question, "has anyone there tried the MBL's headphone circuit and compared it to your specific headphone amp." MBL may be the exception, but separate headphone amps usually come out on top in these races.

The Rowland Continuum 500 has gobs more power for the same money as the MBL and the Continuum 250 has more power for less. The headphone jack is missing however.


Thanks for your response.

- As for the digital volume control, you are probably right that any integrated or pre-amp will probably beat the Wadia's volume control, but it's a feature that I haven't gotten the opportunity to use. I guess I was just interested in trying it out to see how they compare.

- I agree that a dedicated headphone amp should outperform the headphone jack of an integrated or pre-amp. I do find it strange that there are very few audiophile-level integrated amps that have headphone jacks when it seems that pretty much all of the mass-market receivers and amplifiers have them. I suppose the presumption is that the audiophiles will just get their own separate headphone amps if they want to listen to their cans.

- It seems like the Continuum is pretty well regarded here. Other integrated amps that seem to be mentioned in that range include the Gamut DI-150, Gryphon Diablo, and Simaudio I-7. Do you have any idea how hot any of those units run?
No, I have no idea how hot the other amps run. My Continuum 500 idles at 120-degree F in the closed cabinet. The Continuum 250 doesn't have Power Factor Correction and will run under 100-degrees F.